The late rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, insisted the Temple menorah had straight branches coming out from its trunk at sharp angles. Schneerson's claim – which is not backed by any historical or archaeological evidence at all, has become a Chabad totem anyway – hence the strangely shaped giant menorahs Chabad uses on Hanukkah to represent "authentic Judaism" to the public. Here's proof Schneerson was completely, totally and spectacularly wrong.
Above right: Maimonides' schematic drawing of the Temple menorah.
What you see above right and immediately below is Maimonides' schematic drawing of the Temple menorah. If you look closely you'll see many of the oil cups are tilted in such a way as to make the menorah useless if it actually looked like the Maimonides' schematic drawing. But the drawing is a schematic not a representation, and it looks no more like the actual menorah than a blueprint looks like the structure eventually built from it.
Schneerson, a low-grade electrical engineer, sure knew this. But like with many things he did to build Chabad's brand and image, he didn't let facts get in the way of spin. (For example, for years he allowed Chabad to claim he had a Sorbonne degree when in fact he did not.) So Schneerson insisted the Temple menorah had straight branches just like Maimonides' drawing and encouraged Chabad to design and use straight-branched menorahs for use in public Hanukkah candlelighting ceremonies.
Here's a larger version of Maimonides' schematic:
Here's a Chabad menorah based on Schneerson's incorrect claims about Maimonides' drawing, made as if that drawing had been intended as a representation of the menorah and not as a schematic of it:
Now here's one side of the Magdala stone, a small table-sized object found in the ancient synagogue of Magdala in northern Israel. It's dated to about 30 CE, meaning the artisans who crafted it likely would have seen the actual Temple and the actual menorah, which was destroyed about 40 years later.
The carvings are meant to depict the Temple and its holy vessels, and the table may have been used as a bimah for public Torah readings. Please click to enlarge:
The Temple menorah on a Hasmonean coin:
The Temple menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome:
I wrote about the Magdala stone in 2012 and wrote many previous articles on the shape of the Temple menorah. Those articles feature photos of ancient Hasmonean coins, carvings and engravings all of which depict the Temple menorah with curved branches like the one on the Magdala stone.
Many of these carvings, engravings and coins were found while Schneerson was alive and well, but he disregarded them even though the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) who minted those coins were priests who served in the Temple and saw the menorah up close, and even though some of the other carvings and engravings were found in an area of Jerusalem which during the late Second Temple era was almost exclusively occupied by Temple priests and their families (this had to do with reasons of ritual purity).
In other words, people who saw the menorah depicted it with curved branches. Normative Judaism has always depicted the menorah with curved branches. But the Messiah of Brooklyn had his own ideas.